You’ve no doubt heard the recent titillating news reports about a comely New York middle school teacher who was fired because a topless selfie photo she reportedly sent to a former boyfriend somehow ended up on a student’s phone at her school.
Lauren Miranda, 25, a math teacher at Bellport Middle School on Long Island told the school board at a hearing on the situation that she didn’t share the photo with any students and had no idea how a student had received it.
At face value, this appears to be a simple story about ethics involving teachers and students, morality and role models, and the dangers of social media, but it’s also a story in my view about the situational nature of Christianity in 21st century America, where the faithful treat religious doctrine as a buffet of voluntary options, not decreed commands.
There! A crucifix.
I was struck as I watched several video reports on the case that Miranda was in every instance noticeably wearing a Catholic crucifix. And at the same time, she has defended sending a photo over the internet showing her uncovered breasts. As a former, if completely fallen, Catholic myself, I knew immediately what she had been taught by the church during her life, and at the tippy top of the list would be pure chastity.
Right or wrong, reasonable or otherwise, the church has always firmly instructed Catholic girls of any age beyond puberty (if not before) that modesty is next to godliness, and, it goes without saying, they are emphatically not supposed to expose their breasts anywhere except maybe in the shower, under pain of their immortal souls.
But Ms. Miranda apparently did not buy that bit at the spiritual buffet table.
Why are bodies viewed as ‘shameful’?
And in all fairness in this new millennia, I can’t see any good reason why she should have. The human body is inherently natural, not shameful — in public or private. But religious edicts, like those pertaining to abject modesty, especially in Catholicism, are nearly absolute. So, if you ignore them, a good argument could be made that you’re not a real Catholic, which, up until a few years ago anyway, meant you were going straight to hell.
Still, Miranda had a good argument for the South Country Central School District board. She contends that she’s seen numerous shirtless photos of male teachers on social media that were easily accessible to her — and none of the beefcakes, as far as she knows, got fired for it.
Fair enough, except every male in America instinctively (if falsely) knows female breasts are way different than males’ for reasons that are very hard to put one’s finger on. It’s a cultural thing; in Europe nude beaching is a normal thing. Here in our still-majority-Christian, subliminally prudish nation people get arrested for that sort of thing.
Gender discriminationSo, the Miranda situation is now going through the legal process after she sued the district for gender discrimination in firing her but not male teachers who did the same thing. She’s seeking $3 million if she doesn’t get her job back. Miranda’s attorney, John Ray, explained in a New York Times article:
“This is a woman who just takes a photo — a selfie of herself and nothing else. And then from that, they manage to say that she’s done something dirty. Something sexually filthy. That’s just not what we’re about anymore in the millennial age.”
Well, apparently some of us are still about that. But I’m with her.
For one thing, anyone who’s halfway fluent in social media knows how utterly easy it is for things to appear on line without your help, and utterly impossible to remove once they’re there, especially if they go viral. For another, what she did is only conceivably “wrong” in an extreme religious context but not in the context of normal secular life.
“What is wrong with my image?” she asked rhetorically, according to WPIX TV. “It’s my breasts. It’s my chest. It’s my body. It’s something that should be celebrated.”
Blaming the victim
But, adding to her injustice, the school board in a letter to the Times explained that Miranda was fired because, among other reasons, she “caused, allowed, or otherwise made it possible” for students to access to her photo and because she “failed to take adequate precautionary measures” to keep that from happening.
As if most of us even have that capability.
Ironically, district Superintendent Ray Giani provided the Times with Miranda’s glowing performance evaluation from last school year, in which she was awarded the highest rating possible in virtually every category.
Doubly ironic, Ray told Miranda he had planned to recommend her for promotion before all the selfie nonsense exploded.
For me, it all seems such a tempest in a teapot. But I can’t unsee the crucifix and the religious disconnect it seems to represent. Omnipotent deities have rules, after all, that must be followed by their disciples. Or so we hear.